Food Systems Approach

Feedback on Food Systems Decision Support tool

What does the food systems approach do in practice, and how can we make it more useful for practitioners and for policy makers? This community of practice started from these two questions as globally stakeholders in food systems are increasingly aware of the interlinkages between food security, health, socio-economic and environmental challenges and about the need for a shift in food systems practice. The further development of the Food Systems Decision Support Tool, created by WUR and KIT helps realize this shift with support of the Netherlands Food Partnership. On 6 October a meeting was held to gather feedback from the community of agro-food professionals engaged with this theme to maximize relevance and uptake of the final product.

Decision-making in complex food systems: how could this new tool support?

Work on the Food Systems Decision Support Tool started in 2018, after the Dutch MFA and MoA commissioned KIT and WUR to develop a process for food systems analysis that can feed evidence into decision making. After implementing it in Ethiopia, the Sahel and Nigeria a second version was created. The current version helps users to pay more attention to what happens when different systems aspects interact, to systems dynamics, and to processes of power, inclusion and exclusion. It now functions as a toolbox, presenting users with a collection of tools that can be used to analyze different aspects of food systems and their dynamics for intervention options. The key challenge and main discussion point of this Community of Practice meeting remained going from analysis to action after identifying leverage points for system change.

Please click here to view the meeting report.

Please click here for the PowerPoint presentation on the Food Systems Decision Support Tool.

Moving from analysis to decision-making

The consecutive discussion in break-out groups therefore focused on moving from analysis to decision-making. Participants explored: When should you do this food system analysis. Where in the decision-making process does it come in? How do you use the analysis to inform a future strategy and planning? What about the tension between the long term transition agenda and today’s work to address current challenges: is there a tension or not? And, how do you decide on an effective strategy? Key advice from participants for the use of this tool was to:

  • Define a clear joint vision of the future food system and of a concrete joint goal before starting the analysis, and integrate values in this discussion;
  • Have sufficient basic knowledge about food systems, food and nutrition; and about data about trade-offs;
  • Foster ownership of the process by key stakeholder groups in LMICS from the start;
  • Get the right stakeholders around the table who are from a diverse background and able to incentivize change – on the basis of a power analysis. Show the benefits of the approach to different stakeholders;
  • Find a good balance between short-term wins and longer term systems change;

For the full discussion and points of attention, please see the meeting report.

Final reflections

Generally the participants appreciated the revised tool(box) and envisioned it to add value to their work. It could be more attuned for use on issues of climate change, or in humanitarian contexts. Clarification was needed on whether expert facilitation was always needed, or if policymakers in LMICs – for instance – would be able to apply it as is. In the final discussion participants also reflected on whether or not it was needed to include all stakeholders for effective systems approaches – this may not always be necessary. Adding that when getting the right people around the table it is important to identify front-runners for the food systems transformation sought after, as well as brokers of vested interest. Overall, the meeting showed the potential of using this innovative, flexible tool during efforts to find practical ways of working towards food system transformation.